Shapes: The Big Picture (2005)
By Ted Kane
The Big Picture is the second album from pianist/vibraphonist Roger Burn's protean Shapes ensemble. Like their debut, 2003's The Last Farewell, this set features original compositions from not only Burn but also other members, including harmonica player Tollak Ollestad and guitarists Mike Higgins and Matthew Von Doran. This release is a two-CD affair, and Shapes use the additional time to include their arrangements of several standards. The resultant experience is similar to that of seeing the band play a couple of sets at Spaghettini or the Baked Potato on a given nightthe big picture of the band and its mix of contemporary and classic jazz.
Jimmy Haslip is again behind the booth, and occasionally on the other side of it as well. Also on hand are some of his colleagues from the Yellowjackets, including Russell Ferrante, whose turns at various keys allows Burn to shine at marimba on "Eat the Heat" and on vibraphone in several places, as well as Jackets alumnus Robben Ford, whowell, who contributes by being Ford. His introduction to the group's reading of "Naima" is simply beautiful, and Ollestad's arrangement of the tune itself is canny and effective, eschewing the seemingly inevitable bossa nova for a light reggae rhythm that probably sounds a lot better on disc than it looks on paper. And his chromatic harmonica here and elsewhere is a defining element of the group's sound.
The Big Picture is an ambitious effort from a band that seems incapable of giving any other kind. Shapes is a interesting band; though the exact lineup of players and their exact instrumentation is somewhat fluid from track to track, the group nonetheless manages to establish a unique identity. Their sound is contemporary, but still rooted in straight-ahead jazz.
Track Listing: Arc of Twilight; Naima; Big Picture; Gabriela; Eat the Heat; Lobster; Measure Once; Sotto Voce; Softly, As in a Morning; Love for Sale; Outdoors; I Didn't Know; Automat; I Still Remember; What Now?
Personnel: Roger Burn: piano, vibes; Nick Lane, Mike Fahn, Steve Baxter: trombone; Matthew Von Doran, Robben Ford, Michael Higgins: guitar; Andy Suzuki, Bill Bergman, Matt Catingub: reeds; Roy McCurdy, David Derge: drums; Tollak Ollestad: harmonica; Dean Taba, Jimmy Haslip: bass.